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Iron deficiency anemia can leave you feeling drained, foggy-headed, and out of sorts. It’s a condition where your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen throughout your body. This article dives into how nutritional supplements can play a role in replenishing iron levels and getting you back on track to feeling your best.
What Is Iron Deficiency Anemia?
Iron deficiency anemia is a condition where the body doesn’t have enough iron to produce adequate red blood cells. These cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. When you don’t have enough iron, your red blood cells can become smaller and paler than normal, affecting their ability to carry oxygen. This can lead to symptoms like fatigue and weakness due to low levels of oxygen reaching tissues and the brain. The lack of sufficient oxygen can severely impact daily activities and overall well-being.
Anemia: Getting The Diagnosis
Determining the root cause of your anemia is crucial for effective treatment, which is why consulting a medical provider should be your first step. Anemia can be a symptom of underlying health problems, from dietary deficiencies to chronic diseases or even internal bleeding.
A medical provider can order the appropriate tests to diagnose the type of anemia you have and its cause. This targeted approach ensures that you receive the most effective treatment and that you don’t miss serious health concerns. So, don’t just start a supplement regimen, make sure to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan from a qualified medical provider.
Dietary supplements are not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article aims to offer valuable insights into which nutritional supplements have undergone scientific study and shown promise in supporting specific health conditions. We break down the research, so you can work with your medical providers to make informed decisions about adding supplements to your health regimen. For personalized advice tailored to your needs, we recommend consulting with a registered dietitian in addition to your primary care provider.
Check with your physician when adding supplements. While supplements are generally safe for most people, do not add nutritional supplements without your physician’s specific approval if you are pregnant or nursing, are undergoing cancer treatment, have a history of organ transplant, liver or kidney disease, or take medications that interact with supplements.
What Are The Different Types of Anemia?
- Absolute Iron Deficiency Anemia: This form arises when there’s not enough iron in the body, most commonly due to inadequate iron intake from diet. Other causes include gastrointestinal bleeding, heavy menstrual bleeding, frequent blood donation, and certain medications that cause malabsorption. People most at risk are those with a diet low in iron, vegetarians who may not substitute plant-based iron effectively, pregnant women requiring increased iron, and individuals with gastrointestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease.
- Functional Iron Deficiency Anemia: Even with sufficient iron in the body, this form occurs when the body can’t use the iron effectively. Functional iron deficiency can occur in scenarios such as chronic kidney disease, cancer treatment, heart failure, intense athletic training, and pregnancy.
- Anemia of Chronic Disease: This type mimics iron deficiency anemia but is tied to chronic illness. People with long-term medical conditions like HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, or kidney disease are more likely to develop this type. This type of anemia is directly related to the inflammatory response triggered by a long-term illness like cancer, infection, or autoimmune diseases. In this condition, inflammatory cytokines interfere with the body’s ability to use stored iron and also inhibit the production of erythropoietin, a hormone crucial for red blood cell formation.
- Vitamin Deficiency Anemia: This type of anemia occurs when your body lacks the essential vitamins needed for the production of healthy red blood cells. The most common types are folate deficiency anemia and vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. Inadequate intake of these vitamins through diet or issues with absorption can lead to this condition. Those most at risk include vegetarians, older adults, and people with certain medical conditions that affect nutrient absorption, such as celiac disease.
- Rare Anemias:
- Sideroblastic Anemia: Here, the body produces ringed sideroblasts instead of healthy red blood cells. Common causes include genetic mutations, exposure to toxins like lead, and side effects of certain medications, such as isoniazid for tuberculosis.
- Iron-refractory Iron Deficiency Anemia (IRIDA): A rare, inherited form that doesn’t respond to standard iron supplements. Most at risk are those with a family history of the condition.
How Much Iron Do You Need?
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron differs for different age and life-stage groups. The figures below are based on guidelines from the National Institutes of Health.
|Age or Life Stage Group
|RDA for Males (mg/day)
|RDA for Females (mg/day)
|Infants 0-6 months
|Infants 7-12 months
|Children 1-3 years
|Children 4-8 years
|Children 9-13 years
|Teens 14-18 years
|Adults 19-50 years
|Men 51+ years
|Women 51+ years
|9 (younger than 18), 10 (older than 18)
Ways to Increase Iron Intake and Absorption From Food
If you’re looking to get more iron into your system, there are several effective methods. Let’s dive into some strategies that include different forms of iron, using vitamin C for better absorption, and the benefits of cooking with cast iron.
Vitamin C Boost: If you’re consuming plant-based iron, a great way to increase absorption is to pair it with vitamin C-rich foods. So, go ahead and toss some strawberries into your spinach salad or squeeze some lemon juice onto your lentils. Vitamin C can increase the absorption rate of non-heme iron, making your plant-based iron sources more effective.
Cooking with Cast Iron: Using a cast-iron skillet, especially for acidic foods like tomatoes, can increase the iron content of your meals. The acid in the food can pull some of the iron out of the skillet, adding a boost of this essential mineral to your dish. So next time you’re cooking up a tomato sauce, consider using your trusty cast-iron skillet for an iron infusion.
By employing these strategies, you can maximize your iron intake and make the most out of both heme and non-heme sources. Whether you’re adding vitamin C to your meals or cooking with cast iron, these tips can make a real difference in your iron levels.
Foods With The Most Iron
|Iron Content (mg)
|Estimated % Absorption
|Chicken Liver, cooked
|Turkey, dark meat, cooked
How to Absorb More Iron From Supplements
Taking Iron Supplements With vs. Without Food: If you take iron supplements with food, it may cut the absorption of iron by 40% to 50%! This means that for best absorption, you would take iron on an empty stomach for maximum absorption. But it’s not that simple. Taking iron on an empty stomach can cause nausea, so if you need to eat, it’s advisable to steer clear of dairy products, coffee, tea, and cereals.
Take Iron Every Other Day: The hepcidin hormone regulates iron absorption. Taking an iron supplement raises hepcidin levels, limiting further iron absorption for up to 48 hours. Every-other-day dosing works with this cycle, allowing hepcidin to drop and improve iron absorption from the next dose. This method aims for efficient absorption while minimizing side effects. [PMID: 26289639]
Vitamin C: Taking vitamin C with an iron supplement is a smart move to improve iron absorption. The vitamin C acts by converting the iron into a form that’s easier for the body to absorb. This is especially beneficial if you’re taking non-heme iron supplements, which are generally less easily absorbed than heme iron from animal sources. You don’t need much to make a difference—just a small glass of orange juice or a vitamin C tablet taken along with your iron supplement can be enough. By pairing these two together, you’re making it easier for your body to take in the iron it needs to function well.
Ferrous vs. Ferric Iron Forms: Iron supplements commonly come in ferrous forms such as ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, and ferrous fumarate, which generally have better absorption rates compared to ferric forms. Ferrous iron, with its 2+ oxidation state, is more soluble and therefore more easily absorbed by the body. Absorption rates for these types of iron can vary based on a variety of factors, including other nutrients consumed with the supplement.
Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron: Heme and non-heme iron differ in their sources and rates of absorption. Heme iron comes from animal products like meat, poultry, and fish. It has a higher absorption rate, generally between 15-35%, making it easier for your body to take in. Non-heme iron, on the other hand, is found in plant-based foods like spinach, lentils, and fortified grains. This type has a lower absorption rate, ranging from 2-20%. While heme iron is more efficiently absorbed, non-heme iron still plays a vital role and can have its absorption
Constipation: A Common Side Effect Of Iron
Iron supplements are a common treatment for iron-deficiency anemia, but they often come with a side effect of constipation. This can make the experience of taking iron supplements uncomfortable and may deter some people from continuing their treatment. To manage constipation, you can try simple interventions like increasing your water intake, adding more fiber to your diet through fruits and vegetables, and engaging in regular exercise. These steps can make it easier to maintain regular bowel movements while you’re taking iron supplements.
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Are Iron Supplements Safe?
Iron supplements are widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for various types of iron-deficiency anemia when used as directed. These supplements are readily available over-the-counter and come in various forms, such as tablets and liquid, providing flexibility in dosage. They work to restore iron levels, improving the body’s ability to produce red blood cells and thereby alleviating anemia symptoms like fatigue and weakness. Side effects are generally mild and can include stomach upset or constipation, which often can be managed by adjusting dosage or timing of consumption. Overall, iron supplements offer a low-risk solution to anemia.
Caution: Excess iron supplementation can lead to a condition known as iron overload, which poses several health risks. Too much iron can accumulate in vital organs like the liver, heart, and pancreas, leading to damage over time. High iron levels can also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb other essential nutrients. Symptoms of iron overload can range from fatigue and joint pain to more serious issues like liver disease, diabetes, and cardiac arrhythmias. Therefore, it’s important to use iron supplements judiciously and under proper guidance to ensure that levels remain within a safe and effective range.
- Antacids and H2 blockers: Iron absorption may decrease when taken with antacids or medications like ranitidine and famotidine. Expected Interaction: Reduced iron absorption.
- Calcium Supplements: Compete with iron for absorption in the gut. Expected Interaction: Reduced iron effectiveness.
- Tetracycline and Quinolone Antibiotics: Iron can bind with these, making the antibiotic less effective. Expected Interaction: Reduced antibiotic effectiveness.
- Levothyroxine: Iron can interfere with the absorption of this thyroid medication. Expected Interaction: Reduced effectiveness of levothyroxine.
- ACE Inhibitors: Iron supplements can decrease the absorption of medications like lisinopril. Expected Interaction: Reduced effectiveness of ACE inhibitors.
- Methyldopa: Iron can reduce the effectiveness of this high blood pressure medication. Expected Interaction: Reduced effectiveness of methyldopa.
- Bisphosphonates: Iron can interfere with the effectiveness of medications like alendronate. Expected Interaction: Reduced effectiveness of bisphosphonates.
- Dopamine Agonists: Iron may interfere with medications like levodopa used for Parkinson’s disease. Expected Interaction: Reduced effectiveness of dopamine agonists.
- Cholestyramine: This cholesterol-lowering medication can interfere with iron absorption. Expected Interaction: Reduced iron absorption.
- Dimercaprol: Used to treat heavy metal poisoning but can have adverse effects when combined with iron. Expected Interaction: Risk of toxicity.
- Calcium: When taken at the same time as iron, as calcium competes with iron for absorption when taken at the same time as iron.
- Magnesium: Interferes with iron absorption when taken in high doses at the same time as iron supplements.
- Zinc: Reduces iron absorption mainly when consumed in excessive amounts simultaneously with iron.
- Copper: Interferes with iron metabolism when taken in high doses at the same time as iron.
- Phosphorus: Its ability to bind with iron can result in reduced absorption when taken together.
- Vitamin E: May interfere with iron’s functions if taken in high doses alongside iron supplements.
- Manganese: This interaction is most relevant when taken at the same time as iron, as it competes for absorption and utilization.
- Soy Protein: The phytates in soy protein can impede iron absorption when consumed at the same time.
- Tea and Coffee: The tannins in these beverages can bind to iron, reducing its absorption when consumed together.
- Turmeric: The curcumin in turmeric interferes with iron absorption when taken concurrently.
- Fiber Supplements: Can bind to iron and reduce its absorption when taken at the same time.
- Alcohol: Increases iron absorption and can lead to toxicity if consumed in excess at the same time as iron.
Iron with Vitamin C
Iron Plus C is a highly absorbable iron formula used to support and maintain body stores of iron.* The Vitamin C improves the intestinal absorption of the iron.* Iron is an essential mineral and it is used to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of the blood.* Iron is also used to produce red blood cells.* The body needs an adequate supply of iron to produce the number of normal red blood cells needed to maintain optimal health.* Although many people in the U.S. get enough iron from their diet, some must take additional amounts to meet their needs.*
Take 1 capsule, 2-3 times daily with food, or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.
Serving Size: 1 veg capsule
Amount Per Serving
Vitamin C … 200mg (ascorbic acid)
Iron … 20mg (as iron aspartate)
Heme Iron with Vitamin C, B12, and Folate
Here Iron SAP™ helps to form red blood cells and helps in their proper function.*
Here Iron SAP™ is a factor in the maintenance of good health.*
Adults: Take 3 capsules once daily with a full glass of water, with or without food, or as directed by your health-care practitioner. Do not lie down for 30 minutes after taking this product. If you are taking other medications, take this product a few hours before or after them. Consult a health-care practitioner for use beyond 7 weeks. Consult a healthcare practitioner to monitor blood iron content.
Serving Size: 3 Capsules
Amount Per Serving
Vitamin C … 270mg
Methylfolate … 1mg
(from calcium l-5-methyltetrahydrofolate)
Vitamin B12 … 1mg
Iron … 33mg
(heme iron polypeptide from porcine hemoglobin)
Some mamas need extra Iron to support blood volume expansion, thyroid and immune function, fighting fatigue, and for adequate birth weight and baby’s on-time neurodevelopment. Our Iron is bound to Glycine for better absorption and digestive comfort. 13.5mg capsules allow you to flex the dose up and down, depending on how much supplemental iron you need.
Take one capsule up to four times daily, as advised by your health practitioner. We suggest taking away from meals and your Prenatal Multi. Our Iron is absorbed most easily on an empty stomach.
Amount Per One Capsule Serving
Iron (as ferrous bisglycinate, Ferrochel™)…13.5mg
Liquid Ionic Iron 22mg — Trace Minerals Research
Liquid Ionic Iron is an essential mineral for optimal health. Research indicates that it plays an important role in proper enzyme and cognitive function, energy production, and optimal immune system function.* 46-day supply, 22mg/serving of Iron Sulfate.
Ionic Single Minerals from Trace Minerals Research® combines high quality single mineral ingredients and over 72 trace minerals and elements from ConcenTrace® in a unique new proprietary process. This unique blend gives the body the type of minerals that it readily recognizes and absorbs fast because of its liquid Ionic state*.
Shake well. We recommend spreading the serving size throughout the day and taking it on a full stomach. Using the metered dropper, take 0.4-1.2mL daily with juice to mask the concentrated mineral flavor.
Amount Per 1.2 mL (1/4 tsp.) Serving
Iron … 22mg (Ferrous Sulfate)
Magnesium … 20mg (ConcenTrace®)
Chloride … 15mg (ConcenTrace®)
Sulfate … 45mg (FeSO4, ConcenTrace®)
Boron … 105mcg (ConcenTrace®)
Although this article discusses supplements in detail, don’t forget that we are absolutely committed to the “Food First” approach to nutrition. When it comes to your health, the totality of your eating habits far surpasses the impact of individual nutrients or any single supplement you consume. Even though this article doesn’t delve into the broader picture of your overall diet, it’s crucial to keep this element at the forefront of our minds. Your food needs to provide all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals to nourish your body systems down to the cellular level.
Food choices, rather than supplements, are the most critical factors for a healthy gut microbiome. These trillions of tiny inhabitants in your gut affect your brain waves; they orchestrate your immune system. They possess the power to create molecules that can switch genes on or off and are even capable of synthesizing neurotransmitters. Opting for organic foods and steering clear of plastic packaging (including those labeled BPA-free) is a smart move to limit toxin exposure. The sum of all these parts leads to a powerful conclusion: the ultimate key to your health lies in the quality and balance of the food you consume. Supplements are secondary.
What Other Food and Lifestyle Factors Are Important For Managing Iron Deficiency Anemia?
- Iron-Rich Food Choices: Eating foods rich in iron like lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, and fortified cereals can help improve iron levels. Foods rich in vitamin C can also enhance iron absorption.
- Cook in Cast Iron: Cooking with cast-iron pots and pans can increase the iron content of your food. Acidic foods like tomatoes can also pull more iron from the cookware.
- Meal-Supplement Timing: Take iron on an empty stomach for better absorption. However, this can lead to stomach upset for some people.
- Avoid Certain Food Combinations: Calcium-rich foods like dairy and certain plant substances like phytates in grains and legumes can interfere with iron absorption. Consuming these foods separately from iron-rich foods can improve absorption.
- Limit Coffee and Tea: The tannins in coffee and tea can hinder iron absorption. It’s advisable to avoid these beverages during meals if you’re concerned about iron absorption.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can stimulate the production of red blood cells, which can be beneficial for those with anemia.
- Smoking: Tobacco can interfere with iron absorption and worsen anemia symptoms.
- Moderate Alcohol: Excessive alcohol intake can contribute to nutrient deficiencies, including iron.
- Regular Check-ups: Regular blood tests can help monitor iron levels and the effectiveness of any treatments or supplements you’re taking.
What Lab Tests Might Be Helpful In Managing Iron Deficiency Anemia??
To manage iron deficiency anemia, several lab tests can be helpful. A complete blood count (CBC) is usually the starting point to check your hemoglobin and hematocrit levels. Serum iron tests measure the amount of iron in your blood, while ferritin tests gauge your body’s iron stores. A total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) test helps to understand how well your blood can carry iron. Other tests might include a reticulocyte count to measure the young red blood cells, and a peripheral smear to look at the size and shape of red blood cells. These tests give a comprehensive view of your iron levels and how they are affecting your red blood cells and overall health.
To Sum It Up
Iron supplements offer a practical solution for treating iron deficiency anemia, effectively raising hemoglobin levels and helping to alleviate symptoms like fatigue and weakness. From better physical performance to improved focus, the benefits of correcting an iron deficiency go beyond just boosting your red blood cell count. While supplements are a valuable tool, they’re most effective when part of an overall treatment strategy that also includes dietary changes and possibly other medications.
This Article is Not a Substitute for Medical Advice
Dietary supplements are not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The Supplement Sciences website seeks to provide comprehensive access to the most relevant supplement information along with convenient online ordering. We do not provide medical advice and cannot guarantee that every product suggested is completely without risk. Since each person is unique in their health history and medication use, it is important to discuss supplements with your personal physician. Specifically, pregnant women and individuals being treated for cancer or liver or kidney problems must consult their physician about every nutritional supplement they plan to take. People taking medications for the treatment of HIV or with a history of organ transplant must not take supplements without consulting with their physician.